Berserkers

Cantercon, followed by the charmed fighting-woman, explored the corridor. At a door on the left, the corridor turned right. Thrace stood guard while the conjurer put an ear to the door.

002Through thick planks, he heard a murmuring voice that rose into a crescendo, “…and kill something!” followed by a chorus of “Yeah!”

He whispered to Thrace, “Berserkers,” and pulled a purse from his belt.

“What are you doing?”

“I’m going to hire them,” he said and knocked on the door.

A brief scuffling from the room beyond stopped in silence. Then a gruff voice said, “Who’s there?”

“Cantercon. I have a proposition for you.”

The door opened. Three men, armored in leather, swords drawn, stood in the doorway.

The conjurer held forth the purse. “One hundred gold coins and half any treasure found for you if you kill things for us.”

Broad smiles spread across battle-hardened faces.

Choose your own path...


Cantercon

The tall, armored woman let out a breath. Her sturdy frame relaxed. The magic-user studied her expression.

“What’s your name, fighting-woman?”

“Thrace.”

Her eyes didn’t narrow; her brow remained uncreased. By these signs, he knew the spell he cast on entering had been successful. It made her predisposed to friendliness toward him.

“Thrace,” he repeated, trying the name on her. He admired how she held herself, straight and confident. “Call me Cantercon. I search these rooms for a book. I invite you to join me.”

“How do you know there’s nothing under the statue, Cantercon?”

“Nothing of value,” he said. “The runes on the pedestal indicate it represents the wizard Ardendred Faerthoht, Doommaker, builder of this elaborate complex. In the early phases of construction, he hid great treasures beneath representations of himself.”

Deep Dungeon Doom“Great treasures?”

“All his wealth secured, in later phases he hid deadly traps instead.”

Her eyes shifted to the pedestal beneath the stone-robed figure. Cantercon pointed behind to the archway with the monster-head keystone. Its one eye stared down at them. “Faerthoht favored the cyclops motif in later phases.”

The conjurer allowed a moment for his new friend to assimilate the information.

“Come.” Motioning for her to follow, he stepped toward the corridor beyond the statue. “We’ll divide treasure evenly.”

Choose your own path...


The Conjurer

Holding a lantern to light the way, Thrace descended the pitted granite steps into the dungeon. Where the stairs opened into the entry chamber, she looked up to see a man in conjurer's robes peering at a sculpted archway that led into a corridor exit to the right. The conjurer let out a gasp and fled into another corridor further along the wall on the same side.

“Run away, magic-user,” she called after him, “before I put a quarrel in your mouth!”

Readying the crossbow, she muttered under her breath, “A curse on the class,” and stepped forward to see what the conjurer had been looking at. The carved head of a cyclops stared down at her from the keystone, its wide mouth full of sharp teeth, its one eye large and lidless. In the eye, Thrace saw the flash of an image. An inert body bathed in blood, its eyes–her own eyes–staring into the void. A cold chill ran from the base of her spine up the back of her neck.

The fighting-woman shook her head to clear her mind of the image, but she couldn't shake the cold that now invested her bones.

On the opposite side of the chamber, between two archways that mirrored those on this side, stood a statue upon a squat pedestal. Approaching, she saw that it was of a man. The head, smashed on one side, faced forward. The shoulders were raised but the arms had been broken off. It was dressed in a long loose garment of stone that flowed around its feet. Engraved runes on the pedestal were partially effaced.

Shivering from the cold, Thrace examined the floor around the pedestal for indication that it had been moved. Seeing none, she set down the lantern and slung the crossbow over a shoulder.

The Conjurer“The effort will warm me,” she said, and with both hands on the pedestal, she tried to move it.

“There is nothing of value beneath the statue,” came a smooth voice from behind her.

She jerked around to see the speaker. The conjurer reentered the chamber by the corridor beneath the cyclops head. Hands open, palms up, he spread his arms as in warm greeting.

The image of her blood-bathed body flashed again in her mind, then faded, as the cold left her bones. The idea occurred to her that perhaps this magic-user was different...

Choose your own path...


Thrace

ThraceA fighting-woman who recently left the war on the northern frontier, “because my captains were all scoundrels and cowards and conspired with magic-users,” she says. “I'm going to gain experience and treasure to recruit and equip my own company. Then I'll return to fight Chaos.”

 

Choose your own path...


Encounter in Town

A dungeon is a subterranean labyrinth, usually beneath a castle or some ancient ruin. Within its dark chambers, ferocious monsters guard lost treasures. Brave or foolish persons, called adventurers, enter such dungeons seeking fortune and fame.

“You deserted the cause of Law?”

“My captains were all scoundrels and cowards and conspired with magic-users.” The swordswoman was looking him square in the eye. “I'm going to gain experience and treasure to recruit and equip my own company. Then I'll return to fight Chaos.”

There, Edric thought, was his opening. Treasure is what he wanted her to find.

Continue reading "Encounter in Town" »

Choose your own path...


The Tomb of Palantir

Palantir jumped on the open sarcophagus, hoping to find a magic sword or some similarly potent weapon within. He found only a suit of armor encasing dry bones and a round shield.

He hurled his own shield at the advancing ghoul. It clanged against the stone floor. He grabbed the replacement from the bony grasp of its former owner and thrust it between himself and the ghoul's claws.

Swinging his sword around the shield, the elf felt it bite through the leathery hide of his undead opponent, which responded with a shrieking howl and hoisted itself upon the sarcophagus next to him.

Locked in a mortal struggle with the ghoul, Palantir pushed back for striking room. Black nails struck out, slicing the smooth skin of his neck. Blood gushed from the jugular as the elf fell back onto the armor and cracking bones of his tombmate.

The Tomb of Palantir

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Fauskanger

“I am Palantir of the Vanimar.”

“The lost elves?”

“The beautiful ones.”

FauskangerThe warrior thumped his chest with a fist. “Fauskanger... of the swarthy-looking ones. Now let's bind that wound.”

Afterward, the two explored to the west. In an empty room, they discovered a secret passage that lead them to a tomb. Atop a dais rested a sarcophagus. They removed the granite cover with effort.

A ghoul leapt from the dank interior, swiping at Fauskanger with black nails. The warrior recoiled and tumbled backward, his face soon shredded, bloody gore.

Choose your own path...


Imprudence

ImprudenceThe kobolds swarmed over the stack of crates. Between the carved columns, Palantir saw the grim visage of the warrior amid flashes of steel reflecting lantern light. Palantir drew his weapon and charged into the fray. 

A moment later, the fight was over. The scrawny corpses of dog-faced humanoids littered the floor, and Palantir held his left hand over a bloody wound below his ribcage.

"My five kills to your two," said the warrior, replacing his blade in its scabbard. He nodded toward the dripping blood. "You would have done better to watch."

Palantir took a breath to speak but winced at the pain instead.

The warrior stepped forward with open hands. "What's your name, veteran?"

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A Wandering Warrior

A yellow-orange light played across the walls at the east end of the corridor. Palantir approached with caution. From behind the archway, he peered into the chamber.

Against the wall on his right, an empty weapons rack. On the other side of the room, a pile of soiled blankets and rags. In the far corner, beyond a tetrad of columns that supported the ceiling, a warrior pried open a wooden crate atop a stack of similar crates. Holding a lantern over the opened crate, he pulled out a sack. Its contents clanked like coins as he stowed it in his backpack.

Then a noise from the north corridor attracted the warrior's attention. He drew his sword and jumped on top of the crates as a horde of kobolds streamed into the chamber.

As Palantir looked on, the kobolds surrounded the warrior, brandishing short swords and yapping like small dogs.

A Wandering Warrior

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Three Futures

"It's an elf," said the first of the three bandits who held Palantir. "Let's grill it over the fire and feed it to the orcs."

"No, let's hold it for ransom," said the second. "Elves got gold and magic."

"They got armies of spears and bows, too, idiot," said the third. "We'll take it to the boss. We'll get an extra ration of grog."

"Grog!" shouted the first and second in unison.

Three FuturesPalantir saw that his future prospects were grim. Of the three proposals, he had a preference. "It is true that my family is quite rich," he said.

"I told you guys, we should hold it for ransom."

"And when the boss finds out you're doing business on the side...?"

"Much less trouble if we grill it."

"That would stink up the whole dungeon level," said the third bandit.

Thinking that indecision might work in his favor, Palantir said, "I assure you that I've recently bathed."

"To the boss!"

"Ransom!"

The third bandit stepped toward the second and shoved him. The second recovered and drew his sword. The third likewise armed himself.

"It does smell nice," said the first.

"Though I would be honored to meet the boss," said Palantir.

"Even the elf agrees with me."

"Ransom!" said the second and struck out at the third.

The third riposted. The first drew his own sword and jumped into the fray. "Grill it!"

Palantir took two steps backward then, seeing the bandits paid him no mind, made for the opposite corridor.

Choose your own path...